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Matteo Ricci

The 400th Anniversary of the Death of the Pioneer of Modern China Mission


From: Stimmen der Zeit, 5/2010, P. 339-351
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    On the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the death of Matteo Ricci, the Jesuit missionary to China, CLAUDIA VON COLLANI, Adj. Professor of missiology at the University of Münster, appreciates his role as a pioneer of a culturally sensitive missionary method and as a model for mutual understanding between East and West.


The name of the Jesuit Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) - in Chinese Li Madou - is inextricably linked with the China Mission of the early modern period. His fame and his merits are great, but his importance for his time and especially for the China mission after his death are often described not quite correctly. On the occasion of the celebration of the 400th year of his death, Ricci's role in the China mission shall be shown in order to draw lessons from this portrayal.


Scientific Cooperation between China and Europe

Ricci was the one who co-developed the Jesuit method of accommodation in China and helped to get it generally accepted. He was the one who opened China to the Catholic Mission of the late Renaissance in the time of the Counter-Reformation. Ricci was the first missionary of the modern age who received a residence permit in Beijing. To him we owe first translations of the classical literature of China. One of the first and most important China bestsellers of modern times, which saw many editions and translations, is based on his so-called 'Diary'. Ricci learned Chinese, which at that time was considered to be a non-learnable language, and asserted himself against skeptics from among his brethren and Portuguese traders. His friendship and his unbiased and partner-like cooperation with Chinese scholars can be seen as unique model for the encounter between East and West. His translations of European scientific works into Chinese became the beginning of a profound scientific cooperation between China and Europe, which continues to have impact in China to this day. For an era of 200 years the missionary work was based on his method. That's why in China Li Madou is the most famous and also the most esteemed missionary.

But Ricci's name is also surrounded by myths. He was not the first missionary who learned the Chinese language, as is often asserted. About the same time with him, Dominicans in the Philippines had also begun with the study of Chinese language. Ricci has also not written the first catechism in Chinese.



He also was not the only one who developed and applied the method of accommodation; other Jesuits, too, were involved. Ricci and the Jesuit missionaries have not only missionized among the upper class, as is often asserted; this was only a small, though probably the most important target group. Above all, Ricci has held no high offices in China, nor has he ever caught sight of the Chinese emperor. His only official task in Beijing was warden and guardian of the European watches in the emperor's palace.


The Situation in the Far East

Europe's relations with the Far East began a little later than with America, the "new continent". In contrast to the American territories the advanced Asian countries were better able to seal themselves off from the greedy European conquerers, and to prevail against them. This applied particularly to the Far East. After its experiences with the foreign rule of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty (1278-1368), under the new Chinese Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) China had almost completely isolated itself, and only maintained relations with the countries that were tributary to it. During that time the Iberian powers (Spain and Portugal) began with their discoveries and conquests. America largely belonged to the sphere of influence of Spain, whereas Africa, the Far East and parts of South America had been awarded to the Portuguese Padroado; but there was, at least in the case of East Asia, not any claim of ownership connected with it. However, Portugal held the commercial monopoly there with the countries of its Padroado, and was obliged to do missionary work, which in those day was not yet centrally administered in Rome. Indeed, the Portuguese king took the missionary work in his territories very seriously.

The Jesuits who came under Portuguese protection to East Asia and were obligated to the Portuguese crown were working in close connection with Portugal. Since Portugal alone could not send out enough missionaries (the Kingdom had about one million inhabitants), also Jesuits of other nations were allowed to travel under the Portuguese flag to Asia and missionize for Portugal. Thanks to its close relations with Portugal, the Society of Jesus by papal privileges received at first the exclusive right of missionary work in Japan and China; this enabled the development of a consistent method of missionizing.

In 1549 the Portuguese came to Japan, where their missionizing had initially significant success among the southern Japanese daimyos (local rulers). But when after the internal unification under the new Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu (1603-1616) Japan from 1614 on sealed itself off from the outside, all foreigners and especially the missionaries were expelled; this condition lasted until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. However, Francis Xavier, SJ (1506-1552) had already recognized that China was the actual cultural model of East Asia. The mission in China therefore had priority for him.



But while he was attempting to come to China, Franz Xaver died on the southern Chinese island of Shangchuan. Various attempts by Portugal and Spain to establish trade contacts with the Chinese imperial court and at the same time to initiate a possible mission failed miserably. But in 1557/58, the Portuguese acquired the southern Chinese peninsula of Macau (Aomen) "Povoação do Nome de Deus na China" as a trading base, from where they were permitted twice a year to visit the fair in Canton. In 1576 Macau became a suffragan diocese of Goa for the whole of East Asia. In 1565 the Jesuits built their first residence in Macau as a starting point for the missions in East Asia.


New Concepts of Missionizing: Accommodation

The xenophobia of the Chinese on the one hand and the arrogance and aggression of the Europeans on the other hand were seemingly insurmountable obstacles to missionizing. They were only overcome by the far-sighted visitator Valignano Alessandro, SJ (1539-1606). In Japan he had become aware of the overbearing conduct of the missionaries to the Japanese, which was a major obstacle for the missionary work, and he had tried to eliminate it by various measures. On the basis of Franz Xaver's and his experience he developed the so-called method of accommodation for the missionary work in China. Today this method is almost inextricably linked with missionizing in China.

Valignano's guidelines regarding accommodation were mainly developed by the two Italian Jesuits Michele Ruggieri (1543-1607) and Matteo Ricci by 'trial and error', forming the following principles. First, mission from top to bottom, i.e. adaptation to the ruling classes (emperor, scholars) in language, lifestyle, etiquette; secondly, indirect mission with the help of "modern" European technology, science and art; thirdly, openness and tolerance for Chinese values. Here the Jesuits rejected Buddhism and Daoism but accepted Confucianism; fourthly, the apostolate of the book; and fifthly, the thesis of the "old" Confucianism as a primal monotheism and of the "lex naturae," as "natural religion" on which one could build, while the "modern" Confucianism was regarded as a merely secular state philosophy.

At that time, this method was completely new - and this statement applies at least partly also to today's mission efforts. The method of accommodation required not only an intensive language study but was essentially based on mastering the latest European achievements in the sciences, which were used to achieve the objective of religious conversion; this method also meant that both sides were regarded as equal partners.



In contrast, the planned religious conversion from top to bottom was quite contemporary, since the ruler was normally also responsible for the spiritual welfare of his subjects. A possible cause that also lay behind it was the secret desire for a spiritual millennial kingdom, which - as many missionaries of various orders imagined - could be realized best in a new environment among culturally advanced nations, and not in Europe, which was characterized by a moral and political decline.

In 1579 the Jesuit Michele Ruggieri arrived in Macau, and began at Valignano's behest with the arduous study of Chinese language. He had soon learnt so much Chinese that he as an interpreter could accompany the Portuguese trade delegations to Canton. There, he made a strong impression on the Chinese because of his language skills and his polite demeanor. In 1581 he was allowed to build a first Catholic Chapel in Canton. In the same year Valignano sent Matteo Ricci as reinforcement to him.


On the Way to Macau

Matteo Ricci was the descendant of a wealthy Italian family in Macerata, province Marche, which at that time was one of the papal lands. He was born on October 6 1552. His career fell perfectly within the framework of a Jesuit of that time: At 18, he entered the Society of Jesus. His studies at the Collegio Romano in Rome, which in those days was one of the leading scientific institutions in Europe, became formative for his future. There, the German mathematician and Jesuit Christopher Clavius (1537-1612), who was inter alia a friend of Galileo Galilei, taught the natural sciences, which besides philosophy and mathematics included the subjects astronomy, optics, mechanics, music, geodesy, cartography and navigation. Ricci studied three years under Clavius. In Rome he also became acquainted with Valignano, who chose him at Ruggieri's request for a companion for the China mission. After a stay in Portugal, in 1578 Ricci began his journey to the East. Still in the same year he arrived at the Portuguese Goa in India, where he completed his theological studies. In August 1582, at the age of nearly 30 years, he arrived in Macao and joined Ruggieri.

One can only guess how the Chinese training of the two Jesuits probably looked like. There were no textbooks for the language. It is likely that the two went through something like the training of Confucian scholars. Compared with Ricci's knowledge, Ruggieri's Chinese skills are often underestimated, but he even wrote Chinese poems. The so-called four Confucian classics (Zhong Yong, Daxue, Lunyu, Mengzi) were probably the basis of the training; in China they constituted the basis for all examina of scholars.



In the context of their training Ruggieri and Ricci produced a first translation of them. Already in 1583 they went into the city Zhaoqing, where they set up a Jesuit residence. This was only possible because the two Jesuits had made good contacts with Chinese officials ('mandarins') and scholars. On that occasion Ricci much benefited from his training in Rome. A first attraction for such contacts was namely a large world map; not Europe was, as usual, in its centre but China as the "Middle Kingdom". Other attractions inviting Chinese scholars to visit the house of the Europeans were technical gadgets (watches, musical instruments, perspectively painted pictures, glass prisms, etc.), scientific equipment and instruments (celestial and terrestrial globes) and luxury editions of European books.

At the beginning of their stay in China Ruggieri and Ricci had as representatives of a religion worn the garment of Buddhist bonzes who existed also in Japan. Soon, however, their Chinese friends told them that the bonzes in China enjoyed no very high regard, but that the Confucian scholars held the leading position in society. Ricci and later also most of the other missionaries therefore adopted the habit and manners of the Confucians and became the "scholars from the West." However, the acculturation was not just an external, but connected with it was, at least ideally, an attitude that was shaped by a lifelong sense of responsibility for China.


The Opening of China by Matteo Ricci

In 1588 Ruggieri was ordered back to Europe, where he was to initiate a delegation of the Pope to the Emperor of China; but this project failed. For Ricci, who was now on his own, the pressing problem arose of how he could get a permanent residence permit for China. Added to this was his plan to reach Beijing. For, as the Shogun in Japan so in China the emperor was the main objective of the Jesuit missionaries. With the help of the Chinese scholars' curiosity it was possible to overcome first prejudices; there was a cautious approach and above all conversations.

In China the end of the Ming Dynasty was near. In 1644 it was replaced by the Qing Dynasty. The reasons for the decline of the dynasty were the ever-increasing corruption, ignorance, inactivity, prejudices and immobility of the officials. The eunuchs at the imperial court had upgraded their position to such an extent that they controlled all important affairs of state. Since the military sector was completely secondary to the civil sector and regarded with some disdain, the funds were inadequate - with the result that China had no longer a well-organized and powerful army.



As a result, there were time and again invasions of Mongol tribes from the north; in the south gangs of Japanese and Chinese pirates ravaged the southern Chinese coasts. Isolated from the reality, the last Ming emperors, especially Wanli (1563-1620) lived in the imperial palace and were unable and unwilling to see the problems and to solve them. In this situation upright Confucian scholars were looking for new religious and spiritual values, which they did not find in Confucianism that was rather a political philosophy. Since in China Buddhism, unlike Japan, was the religion of the uneducated and women, it seemed to them that Christianity, which was proclaimed by scholars of their kind, was a possible solution.

Among the Chinese scholars who made a stand against China's decline the Jesuits found their conversation partners, helpers and even friends. Among the five Confucian relationships regulating the life within the family and then in the kingdom, friendship is the only relationship between equals. Here a point of contact with the Europe of antiquity and the Renaissance presented itself. Both groups, Jesuits and Chinese scholars, adhered to the same values: education was highly appreciated, wealth was despised, and there was the quest for spiritual values. Ricci used this to write a book about friendship, "Jiaoyoulun" (Nanking 1595), which was based on Cicero's "De Amicitia". The conversation partners of the Jesuits by no means always wanted to be baptized. The greatest obstacle was here often polygamy. It was very important to have sons for the exercise of ancestor worship. If the wife had not given birth to a son, the husband (if he could afford it) was allowed to take one or more concubine(s); this was often interpreted very generously in favour of the husband. Then, their children were regarded as the children of the principal wife. Some Chinese scholars became "only" friends and helped the Europeans in the writing of books in classical Chinese, and wrote prefaces to these books, or used their contacts, so that Ricci could come nearer to his goal Beijing.


The Road to Beijing

Ricci's way northbound to Beijing took twelve years - twelve years of a painful pilgrimage, which was full of setbacks. The road to Beijing, which is about 2400 km away from Macao, consisted of many mission stations, which were partially passed into the hands of other Jesuits. In 1583 Ricci arrived in Zhaoqing, in 1589 he founded the station in Shaozhou, in 1595 he arrived in Nanking, the old southern capital, from 1595 to 1598 he was in Nanchang, and in 1599 again in Nanking. Ricci always moved in scholarly circles, to which also imperial relatives belonged.



The major advantages of Ricci were his open and friendly nature, his great interest in China, his respect for other people and values, his great gift for languages, and his profound knowledge of European science. They gave him in China the reputation of a highly educated man. In 1605 he wrote with a touch of irony about himself:

"These globes, clocks, spheres, astrolabes, etc. that I made and the use of which I teach have given me the reputation of the greatest mathematician. I have no book on astrology (here in the sense of astronomy), but with the help of some ephemerides and of a Portuguese almanac I predict some eclipses more accurately than they (the Chinese)."

In January 1601 Ricci finally arrived at Beijing, the goal he had longed for so fervently. But the Chinese emperor, who ruled during the Wanli period [Regierungsdevise], lived even for a Ming emperor very isolated and actually quite passive. It was therefore wholly out of the question to come before his throne, and to see him face to face. And so only Ricci's gifts remained, which he had brought the emperor and which were regarded as exotic European "tribute payments" (1). Ricci's arrival in Beijing in 1601 was explicitly mentioned in the official history of Ming, while the list of gifts to the Emperor Wanli looked like this: perspectively painted pictures of the Saviour, the Virgin Mary, the Madonna and Child, a cross decorated with precious stones and colored glass, and a copy of Abraham Ortelius' "Theatrum Mundi, two watches, two prisms refracting the light, a European harpsichord, eight different mirrors and bottles, a rhinoceros horn, two hourglasses, a gospel, four European sashes in different colors, canvas and European fabrics, European gold coins. The emperor then usually deigned to select from these gifts, the more the better for the donor, because this propitiated the emperor and brought prestige. The answer to the gifts could be gifts sent in return by the Emperor, but also privileges (permission to missionary work, or to trading).

Ricci had success with his tactics: The gifts went into the imperial treasury. He became responsible for the maintenance of clocks, and his stay in Beijing was condoned.


Ricci's Books

The literary apostolate had a special significance in the method of accommodation. Books were held in high esteem among the Chinese, whose state apparatus was based on exams and book-learning, and where every man could basically attain the highest Mandarin positions. Magnificently illustrated and bound European books excited the wonder of the learned and were a great attraction.



It was therefore only natural that the Christian doctrine and the European science was introduced by books. With it one not only adapted oneself to the Chinese erudition, but had also a much larger radius of effectiveness, because the books reached people who never came in contact with the missionaries: those in remote areas (including the completely closed Korea) or educated female Chinese, who were not allowed to have contact with Europeans.

Ricci's Chinese friends were very important with respect to the books. They helped him to refine the style, they wrote laudatory prefaces bearing witness to the social network of Ricci and other Jesuits. Ruggieri and Ricci initially wrote catechisms, but soon other books followed. Together with his friend Xu Guangqi (1562-1633) Ricci translated the first six books of Euclid's geometry into Chinese "Jihe yuanba" (six volumes, 1605), using the edition of his former teacher Christopher Clavius. In addition to the above-mentioned book about friendship also Ricci's book on European mnemonics "Xiguo jifa" (1595) became well-known. Finally, he wrote books on cartography and other sciences.

Ricci's best-known book, however, was his "Tianzhu shiyi" - "The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven." This book in the form of an imaginary conversation between a Chinese and a Western scholar should give an introduction of Christianity to Chinese who in this respect were totally ignorant. Here great stress was laid upon God as Creator, while more complicated mysteries of the Christian faith, as e.g. the Incarnation or the Trinity, were - as in the early Church - initially regarded as arcane discipline and were not mentioned. They were reserved to a later stage of teaching the faith. The doctrine of transmigration, as the Jesuits thought they saw it in Buddhism, was wholly rejected in his book.

This book is often referred to as a dialogue between two equal partners; but this is not quite true (at least if you understand dialogue in the modern sense). Both interlocutors admittedly treat each other very respectfully, but it is obvious that the Western scholar teaches the Chinese, non-Christian scholar. It is rather a classic doctrinal conversation than a dialogue with mutual exchange. The "Tianzhu Shiyi" became a classic of Chinese Christian literature. It saw many editions and translations (Manju, Korean, Japanese, French and English) and was at the end of the 18th century added to the Imperial anthology "Siku".



Matteo Ricci and the Chinese Religions

When Matteo Ricci came to China, there were three "religions" in China: Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism. In China, however, they not referred to them as religions but as "jiao", i.e. schools or doctrines, and that's why the missionaries called them "secta", in the sense of a belief to which one adheres and follows.

Confucianism was based on China's "Five canonical books" (Yijing, Shujing, Shijing, Liji and Qunqiu), of which the "Four Classics" were a part. According to Chinese tradition, but also in the eyes of those missionaries, they were more than 4000 years old, and so these books, according to the calendar of those days, must have been written shortly after the Flood. In those books was talked of God, "Shangdi," as the emperor above, or of "Tian", the sky as a paraphrase for God.

Since both descriptions were similar to the God of the Old Testament, the Jesuits, beginning with Matteo Ricci, spoke also of a monotheism in ancient China. If one built on it and saw it as preparation and guide to Christianity, then some of the prejudices of the Chinese would be removed, for then Christianity would be no strange new religion but was already included in the ancient Chinese books and could thus be accepted more easily. Ricci therefore argued in favour of reading the original classic books and rejected all later commentaries, which for him were "materialistic" and distorting the origin. Confucianism in the late Ming period, for example, was primarily a moral eclecticism, which had been taught by the famous Chinese philosopher Wang Yangming (1472-1529). It rather seemed to be a completely secular state philosophy with certain rituals, which therefore was readily compatible with Christianity. With it the position was outlined to which not only Ricci but also his successors in China adhered: A Chinese could become a Christian and nevertheless remain a Confucian.

With the other two religions, however, it was a different matter. Ruggieri and Ricci had initially built on Buddhism, because it seemed to a certain degree familiar to them; Ruggieri even rejected Confucianism, because the religious element seemed to be missing entirely.

""They (the Chinese) have no philosophy. They proceed with the help of sentences and conclusions, as reason dictates them. Although they lead of necessity a moral life, they have no knowledge of God; but there is no excuse for them that they know nothing about it."

Ruggieri regarded "Tian" as something material, i.e. without any spiritual substance, and therefore as inappropriate name for the Christian God.



The indigenous Taoism and the later Buddhism, on the other hand, had in Jesuits' eyes corrupted the originally pure religion and appeared to them to be a terrible superstition; they saw the priests of both religions as "idolater shavelings" who deceived people on behalf of the Devil and only imitated the true religion. Similarly, the Neo-Confucianism that had emerged during the Song Dynasty and had adapted elements from Daoism and Buddhism seemed at least to be dubious. Ricci did not have enough time to deal with it, and so he has thoroughly misunderstood it. Only at the end of the 17th and at the beginning of the 18th century, individual Jesuits went into Neo-Confucianism and Daoism in more detail and tried to explore the writings in order to use them for the proclamation.



Matteo Ricci's method of missionary work did not aim at mass baptisms. His dream was that the Chinese emperor became converted, and all his people followed him. Ricci's specific missionary work was that he lead individual Chinese to Christianity by convincing them. Seen from this angle, his missionary success is quite remarkable. In 1600 there were about 400 Christians in Beijing, in 1605 there were 2000. This was indeed not a big number, but each of these conversions required great persuasion efforts. In these early days of modern missionary work, which coincided with the end of the Ming dynasty, a number of senior scholars, the so-called Mandarins or even "Colao" (= Gelao, Minister of State) converted to Christianity. Moreover, at the local level there were many subordinate officials who were baptized. Decisive for the conversion of Confucian scholars was the possibility that, if they became Christians, they were allowed to remain at the same time Confucians. For Ricci the political philosophy of Confucianism was "probably" no superstition, and therefore compatible with Christianity. The Confucian rites were for him an expression of veneration (of Confucius) and the love of the ancestors. That's why the educated Chinese were allowed to remain Confucians and yet become Christians.

The aforementioned Paul Xu Guangqi, in addition Michael Yang Tingyun (1557-1627) and Leo Li Zhizao (1565-1630) were particularly important in the early days of Christianity and were of great help to the Jesuits. In particular, Xu Guangqi, who later became Minister of State, gave Christianity a permanent place in China and at the imperial court by entrusting a team of Chinese scholars and Jesuits with the reform of the Chinese calendar, which had become imprecise but was of great importance to the emperor's governmental power. Starting from 1641 the Jesuits thus received a leading position at the Astronomical Tribunal in Beijing.



With regard to the possible salvation of the non-baptized Chinese, Ricci was merciful. With such a large number of Chinese who had already lived and died without baptism, the question arose of how this could be consistent with God's goodness, and why Christianity had come so late to China. In view of the Chinese' reverence for their ancestors the idea would be inacceptable, that all might be lost and damned. For this reason, Ricci used the doctrine on the possible "salvation of the Gentiles" in order to answer the question. According to it, by his grace God could redeem even the non-baptized for their morally well-led life. Ricci was of the opinion that in the canonical books traces of the original monotheism and of the original revelation could be found, which - as he was convinced - had been spread after the flood by the descendants of Noah throughout the world. Ricci therefore concluded that many Chinese of ancient times, including Confucius as a kind of prophet of Christianity, had possibly been redeemed by means of natural religion (legge naturale, lex naturae), which God had written on the heart of all people.


Matteo Ricci in Europe - the Start of Sinophilie

Niccolò Longobardo SJ (1557-1654), Matteo Ricci's successor as superior of the China Mission, put the missionary work on a new basis. He had recognized that the mission needs a well-secured financial basis, and new missionaries and scientific and theological books from Europe. Above all, the China mission should become independent of Macau and the Japan mission. That is why Longobardo in 1613 sent the Fleming Nicolas Trigault SJ (1577-1628) to Europe. He accomplished his tasks well: he recruited new missionaries, he achieved the separation of the Chinese vice-province from the Japanese province in 1623, received permission to translate the Scriptures into the Chinese high-level language and to consecrate Chinese candidates for priesthood without knowledge of Latin. He also brought a number of new missionaries to China, an entire Renaissance Library, scientific instruments and financial support.

To achieve these successes, Trigault had in Europe gone from one prince's palace to the next, and had everywhere aroused great enthusiasm for the China mission. On his long-lasting journey to Europe, he had translated from Italian into Latin and revised Matteo Ricci's so-called "diaries" that reported on his missionary work in China but also described the Chinese Empire. The publication of this work as "De Christiana expeditione apud Sinas suscepta" in Augsburg in 1615 triggered off a great enthusiasm for China. The book was translated into several European languages, as e.g. into German and French, and saw a number of editions.



It was the beginning of the Jesuits' publications about China, which reached from descriptions of the country, Chinese history and translations to scientific treatises on Chinese medicine, language and natural history, and lasted until the end of the 18th century. The Jesuits drew a very positive image of China in their books. An empire became visible in which the emperor and the officials through their virtue and morality turned everything to the good, and they did it although they were not Christians. This picture influenced to a very great extent also the European Enlightenment.

The high esteem for the Chinese philosopher Kongzi, who was made "Confucius" by the missionaries, assumed such dimensions in Europe as in China that he became a prophet and herald of the future Christianity, which in turn made the access to Christianity easier for the Chinese.


Matteo Ricci's later Impact on China - the Beginning of Cultural Exchange

With Matteo Ricci's death on 11 May 1610 in Beijing, the first era of the pioneers of the China mission was over. The Chinese felt admiration and sympathy for him, for he had died abroad, far from his home country. Ricci's Chinese friends could therefore achieve that the Emperor or the imperial court provided a piece of land and a small amount of money, so that Ricci could be buried befitting his social status in Beijing. His burial-ground was the origin of the cemetery Zhalan, which is today still in Beijing and where a number of the best-known Jesuits of China Mission were buried, their tombstones have been preserved to this day.

Matteo Ricci was of course not the only Jesuit in China who was important for the success of the mission. To mention are besides him above all: Giulio Aleni (1582-1649) from Brescia, who in southern China in the dialogue with Chinese scholars became the epitome of the "scholar from the West", the Cologne Johann Adam Schall von Bell (1592-1666), who lived at the imperial court under the last Ming emperor Chongzhen (1627-1644) and under the first Manju Emperor Shunzhi (1644-1661), and the Flemish Jesuit Ferdinand Verbiest, who was teacher of the young Emperor Kangxi (1662-1721).

But Ricci is regarded as the pioneer par excellence, and the accommodation is considered to be "his" method. This has been and is seen in that way also in China. On the occasion of the first papal delegation to China in the modern era (1705-1710) by Charles-Thomas Maillard de Tournon (1668-1710) Emperor Kangxi, who was well instructed in Christianity, noted that many theologians and missionaries dismissed the Confucian values simply as "paganism", which had to be eradicated root and branch. In such a perspective it was no longer possible for a Christian to be a Confucian, i.e. a loyal Chinese citizen, because the rites were the backbone of the Confucian state.



Kangxi therefore demanded since 1706 of all missionaries a residence permit, the so-called "piao", which was issued only if the missionaries confirmed that they had always followed Ricci's method, and that they would also continue to follow it. Those who did not fulfill this condition were expelled. Matteo Ricci was thus acknowledged still at the beginning of the 18th by the Chinese government and became a symbol for a sinicized Christianity, which was not perceived as foreign matter.

This importance of Ricci for mutual understanding between East and West was on October 24, 2001 appreciated by Pope John Paul II in his address to the conferences held on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of Matteo Ricci's arrival in Beijing (2). Due to his understanding and empathy also in today's China Li Madou is seen as a bridge builder between East and West (3).



(1) China had no diplomatic relations in our (current) sense but was visited by tributary states which brought gifts and were therefore allowed to participate in the Chinese culture, and to trade.

(2) The address is in German available in the Internet, in French also in a print version: see Johannes Paul II., An die Teilnehmer einer Tagung anläßlich des 400. Jahrestages der Ankunft des Missionars und Wissenschaftlers Matteo Ricci SJ in China: bzw. La documentation catholique, no. 2262 (20.1.2002) 55-60 (Retrouver la route du dialogue entre la chrétienté et la culture chinoise).

(3) Since Matteo Ricci was the best-known China missionary, there is ample literature in Chinese and Western languages about him. Information on his life, his works, and additional literature, see K. Schatz, art. Ricci, Matteo, in: LThK3, volume 8, col. 1165 f.; C. v. Collani, art. Ricci, Matteo, in: RGG4, volume 7, col. 502 f.; ‹› (Stand März 2010); ‹› (Stand März 2010).


Link to 'Public Con-Spiration for-with-of the Poor'